Monday, August 20, 2007

Washington Post: 'The Lost War'

An excellent comment piece by Misha Glenny on the failure of prohibition appeared in yesterday's Washington post. It is titled 'The Lost War', subtitled 'We've Spent 36 Years and Billions of Dollars Fighting It, but the Drug Trade Keeps Growing'.

Read the complete article here

There is also a live online discussion with the author today at noon (5pm UK time) to which you can submit questions

some quotes:

"Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security."

"The trade in illegal narcotics begets violence, poverty and tragedy. And wherever I went around the world, gangsters, cops, victims, academics and politicians delivered the same message: The war on drugs is the underlying cause of the misery. Everywhere, that is, except Washington, where a powerful bipartisan consensus has turned the issue into a political third rail.

The problem starts with prohibition, the basis of the war on drugs. The theory is that if you hurt the producers and consumers of drugs badly enough, they'll stop doing what they're doing. But instead, the trade goes underground, which means that the state's only contact with it is through law enforcement, i.e. busting those involved, whether producers, distributors or users. But so vast is the demand for drugs in the United States, the European Union and the Far East that nobody has anything approaching the ability to police the trade.

Prohibition gives narcotics huge added value as a commodity. Once traffickers get around the business risks -- getting busted or being shot by competitors -- they stand to make vast profits. A confidential strategy report prepared in 2005 for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet and later leaked to the media offered one of the most damning indictments of the efficacy of the drug war. Law enforcement agencies seize less than 20 percent of the 700 tons of cocaine and 550 tons of heroin produced annually. According to the report, they would have to seize 60 to 80 percent to make the industry unprofitable for the traffickers."

Misha Glenny is a former BBC correspondent and the author of "McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Underworld," to be published next year.

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